Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Easter
Jubilate – “Shout for joy to the LORD!”
Isaiah 40:25-31 + 1 Peter 2:11-20 + John 16:16-22
Jubilate! “Shout for joy to the LORD!” Can you? Can you shout for joy to the LORD? Are you in a joyful mood today? Or, for some of you, would it be more of a whisper, or a whimper, or a shrug of indifference toward the LORD or a cry of sorrow?
The world links its joy to all sorts of things: a body that’s healthy and pain-free, when all is well with your family, when a healthy child is born. Joy may be tied to your bank account, your popularity, your stuff. Joy may be tied to a recreational activity you enjoy, to faithful friends, to a future that’s looking bright. If those things are present, then joy is present. If not, then not.
What all those things have in common is that they’re all here today and gone tomorrow. You can’t count on them. If joy is bound to any of them, then today’s joy will be replaced with tomorrow’s sorrow.
Jubilate! “Shout for joy to the LORD!” It’s not a command, you know. God is not ordering you to put on a fake smile and muster up some joy in the midst of your sadness. God is not talking only to those who feel joyful today, or asking you to pretend at something you don’t really feel. Instead, God is giving you something to be joyful about. True joy, Christian joy, is linked to something solid and dependable and powerful, to truth that no one can ever change or take away. True joy, Christian joy, is bound to the resurrection of Jesus Christ: 1) to the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, 2) to the promise that, after a little while, you will see him again, 3) and to the future hope of his glorious appearing.
True joy is bound, first of all, to the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. On the night before he died, Jesus mercifully prepared his unsuspecting disciples for the events of the next few days. “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. The disciples scratched their heads and couldn’t figure out what Jesus was talking about. But in just a little while, they would begin to understand. Within 24 hours Jesus would be crucified, dead and buried, and they would see him no more. The stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb seemed so…permanent. They did weep. They did mourn and grieve, because they had thought that Jesus was the Son of God, that he would make things right between God and them.
But the disciples’ grief turned to joy after just a little while, when they saw Jesus again. A living Jesus meant that death had been conquered, sin had been paid for, God was reconciled to the world in Christ, and their faith had not been in vain. The fact of Jesus’ resurrection meant that everything would be all right.
The fact of Jesus’ resurrection became the permanent source of joy for those who saw Jesus. And because nothing could change the fact of the resurrection, nothing could rob them of their joy, so much so that in every hardship, under every form of persecution, through beatings and floggings and stonings and in the very face of death, the Book of Acts tells us that the disciples rejoiced. They rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer for the Name – the Name of the one who was dead but now is alive forevermore. Their souls were safe in his hands.
True joy, Christian joy, is bound to the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. That’s joy that the world can never understand. The world rejoiced when Jesus died and has not stopped rejoicing since, because the world still thinks Jesus is dead, and therefore, people think they can get away with their sin. A dead Jesus means God is unknown and unknowable, and therefore we are not responsible to him. We can take his Word or leave it, as we wish. We can be self-centered, we can worry about ourselves, we can stay angry at those who bother us and shoot them a dirty look, and we can even justify our anger and our lack of compassion, because, well, Jesus isn’t here to see. That’s how the world manages to go on rejoicing.
But God’s people know better. The fact of the resurrection – which we know to be true, means that Jesus is here to see. He is here to see hearts breaking over sins committed and to hear lips confessing what miserable and wretched creatures we are, that we should ever fail to consider our neighbor’s good above our own. He is here to speak forgiveness through his called servant. He is alive to fulfill the Word God spoke through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 40, The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak, so that you soar on wings like eagles. If Jesus were dead, you’d have none of that, no hope, no salvation. But the fact of the resurrection makes all the rest of it true, too, and there is joy to be found there. True joy is bound to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
True joy is also bound to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to the promise that, after a little while, you will see him. “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” Now, the Apostle John records this saying of Jesus not for himself or the other apostles, but for you and me, because it’s not only in those three days in the tomb that Christians lose sight of Jesus for a little while. The true joy that is bound to Jesus’ resurrection is always available to us, but it is not always experienced by us.
Christians go through some times in their lives experiencing the joy of knowing the risen Christ is on our side and by our side at all times. Those are the up’s. Then there are the down’s – when Christ seems so very, very far away, completely out of sight. When the world starts beating up on you, when a guilty conscience just won’t be silenced, when you have no friends, or you have friends who don’t behave like friends, when your family’s future is uncertain, then joy is hard to find.
Every Christian experiences this “little while” of Jesus being hidden behind pain and suffering. The Apostle Peter knew of it and wrote to his dear Christian friends about it, “now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” And, let’s be honest, sometimes that “little while” from God’s perspective is way too long from ours. But then there’s this little promise of Jesus, that to us may seem awfully little but to God it’s long and deep and high and wide. “After a little while you will see me, and your grief will turn to joy.”
On this earth, you don’t see Jesus in the flesh, but you do see enough of him to turn grief back into joy. He’s placed himself in his Word and Sacraments, which are so powerful – listen to how Peter describes what they can accomplish, Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
It always baffles me when Christians are going through the most difficult of times, they’ll stop coming to church, because they’re waiting for things to get better first. And then they complain about how God is testing them too severely. And I say, obviously he hasn’t tested you severely enough yet, because you’re still not coming to see him! You still seem to think you’re strong enough without him. Don’t be foolish!
Here in his Word and Sacrament, the risen Christ appears to you and to all who hear and who eat and drink. Here he wants you to see him, to hear him speaking words of forgiveness and comfort to his disciples but speaking also to you. Here he insists that you see him – his real body and blood, present with his whole Church in heaven and on earth at the same time in the Holy Supper. And he is powerful to break through the pain and suffering and hardship so that, after a little while of worrying and wondering, you’ll see him again, and you’ll know joy again, even in the midst of suffering. That’s his promise to you. And that promise is linked to the resurrection. True joy is bound to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
…finally, to the future hope of his appearing. I’ll go back to First Peter once again, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice.
You don’t see Jesus now, for a little while. For a little while longer, you see a world that’s on its last legs. But you know that Jesus’ resurrection is a fact. You see him now in humble Word and Sacrament. And you will see him again, in a little while, in the glory of his resurrected body. All this that you see will pass away, and you will know joy that no one can ever take away from you, joy that will have no end.
Since that is true, since your joy is bound to the future hope of Jesus’ appearing, since your home is in heaven and your heart is set on seeing Jesus on that great day, that makes you, as Peter says in the Epistle Lesson, aliens and strangers in the world. As such, Peter pleads with you, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. Let the world see your good deeds. Let them see your acts of love and compassion. Let them see your joy! The joy of a Christian in the midst of hardship has caused more than a few unbelievers to take notice, to be amazed, and then to ask, why? How? And then you tell them why and how. Because Jesus lives. Because sin and death are conquered. Because Jesus is coming back, and all this pain and suffering here is, as Jesus himself calls it, labor pains, the pains of a woman in childbirth, which are terrible and awful and dangerous and scary. But at the end, a child is born. The sorrow is forgotten, and joy remains. True joy, Christian joy, is bound to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jubilate! Whether you’re in a joyful mood today or not, “Shout for joy to the LORD!” Because Jesus lives, and you will see him in a little awhile. And even in those times when he’s covered up by grief, rest assured, he still sees you, and that is something to be joyful about. Amen.